Coding Her Curiosity

A young woman sits next to the iconic Microsoft logo and symbol.
Chariane Nkengfack at Microsoft headquarters. (Photo: Judson Felder)

By Kenna Caprio

Her fascination with computer programming and coding started with The Sims, a popular video game.

Chariane Nkengfack recalls thinking, “When I click, how do I get all of these options?” She continues, “There are so many possibilities in the game. How do you write code for that? It just boggled my mind.”

Her curiosity grew as she did, leading her to the Academy for Information Technology, part of the Union County Vocational-Technical School, for high school, and then to FDU to major in computer science.

The Florham Campus senior has been pursuing answers to her coding questions ever since, culminating with two internships with Microsoft in Seattle, Wash.

Walking into Microsoft, Nkengfack felt excited but somewhat intimidated — “Microsoft has been around for so long. Everyone loves at least one of its products.” The internships are prestigious, and Nkengfack felt keenly aware of the opportunity ahead.

Interns work closely with managers, mentors and coaches to develop skills in problem solving, time management and leadership. They learn the nuances of programming languages, how to create databases and ways to increase productivity.

The company also prioritizes networking — important for new recruits looking to fit in the corporate culture — and encourages growth mindset thinking to combat imposter syndrome in employees.

“It’s really hard to walk into a company or onto a team where you don’t look like anyone around you,” says Nkengfack. “It’s harder to feel like you belong if you don’t have an idol or role model. It impacts the way you work.” Nkengfack raised this with her manager, and he connected her with other women of color at the company, who in turn provided the support Nkengfack needed to do her best work.

In 2018, Nkengfack was assigned to the Office 365 team and in 2019, she worked as an Explore Intern on the Worldwide Learning Team.

“I find it so fascinating that you start with nothing and can build anything with a few lines of code. There’s nothing stopping you. Just start typing.” — Chariane Nkengfack, senior computer science major

In her first internship, the interns built practice apps to familiarize themselves with new platforms, including Swift and Xcode, and practiced making calculator and game apps on Apple’s iOS. “You have to be able to pivot, start over and try something new.” Nkengfack can’t go into detail about her group’s final project — it’s an idea that Microsoft now owns — but she does say it’s an app geared toward college students.

Her second internship project, completed in a team of three, focused on the front and back ends of a web application. Team members traded off between the project manager and software engineer roles. Project managers “acquire the resources and information” other teammates need. “Most people think that software engineers put headphones on and go into a corner to code, but one is encouraged to stay within your pod and work together,” Nkengfack says.

The most rewarding aspect of both internships, though, came at the end for Nkengfack when she recommended other FDU students to the company. Two of those students interned with Microsoft in 2019.

“You can create this chain effect of people who are changing their lives in a meaningful way. Companies might overlook FDU at first, because they’re only looking at the Ivy League, but that’s looking past all these qualified candidates,” Nkengfack says. “It just takes one student for them to realize FDU and its students exist, and their potential for greatness.”

Ed. note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2020 edition of FDU Magazine.

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Selected features from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s biannual, signature publication.

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FDU Magazine

FDU Magazine

Selected features from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s biannual, signature publication.

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